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Friday, September 17, 2010

Adventures in Graphica by Terry Thompson

Adventures in Graphica: Using comics and graphic novels to teach [reading] comprehension, 2-6 by Terry Thompson.


Thompson, a media specialist and literacy coach addresses the essential topics for any elementary teacher who proposes to use comics in the classroom. A teacher can refer to the chapters as needed, Thompson has created an easy to use reference that covers the essentials and suggests appropriate lessons.

Chapters cover the appeal of comics, a very brief (but concise) review of the essential research, teaching the conventions of comics and how to read words and pictures together, as well as the comprehension of vocabulary, sequential images and the magic that happens in the gutter, between the frames.

As I did research on making comics I found that telling a story in words and images was not transparent cultural knowledge. My childhood was filled with sibling rivalry as I attempted to read the comics first, in newspapers that came morning and evening. The seven and eight year old students I taught watched cartoons, read ordinary books, the occasional comic, and played video games. In every case but one these influences appeared as they made comics. Only one student, who I called Gracie (a pseudonym), understood how to make comics without my assistance.

Comics and graphic novels have taken on more challenging material, have hired master artists and talented writers, as well as improving the quality of paper and printing. Yet this lush and highly polished style of cartooning may present an opaque and unreadable surface to the young viewer. Newspaper funnies used to be the comic strip primer that taught us how to read the medium, that is, before circulation dwindled leaving us with advertising circulars thinly wrapped in news.

Chapter 4: “Teaching the Conventions of Graphica,” wisely suggest teachers explain the conventions of layout, panels, speech bubbles, narrative boxes, lettering, directionality, the importance of pictures and the gutter. If teachers do not explicitly teach this material, students must labor on their own to figure out the mechanics this “invisible art” (McCloud, Understanding Comics 1994).

Chapter 7: “In the Mind’s Eye: Making Mental Images and Inferring,” addresses the holistic experience of reading comics. It asks students and teachers the important question; How is it, we know what we know? This reading encompasses all of the elements of comics and recognizes that the story is visualized by the reader. The prosaic details of vocabulary and reading comprehension are professionally addressed in Chapter 8: “Vocabulary, Visually.”

Thompson wraps up the book with a word on choosing comics and graphic novels for the classroom. He also addresses the pitfalls and missteps in a chapter on troubleshooting.

Teachers, this is the book that will allow you to plan, implement and knowledgeably defend your choice of teaching with comics in the classroom. BUY IT!

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* B. Architecture, University of Cincinnati * Teaching Certificate, Art, Portland State University * Education Leadership Coursework, Eastern Washington University * MAT, Art Education, University of Idaho * Ph.D. Indiana University